Fishy Fun in Florida

story and photos by Steven A. Ellis, Kennesaw, Georgia

During the holidays my family and I got to visit in Sarasota, FL, for about a week. Toward the end of the stay my stepson and I got to cram in a bit of collecting. On 12/28, Jonathan and I stopped at the Little Manatee River, about 17 miles east of Bradenton on FL Highway 64. Normally this stream is crystal clear, with a white sand bottom. However, there was a considerable leaf pack in many places on this visit and the water had more of an amber color with a temp. of 58F. We had planned to snorkel, but even the Great Gilled One in Chattanooga hesitates to go in when it's below 60F. (-: I know some of our MI stalwarts think that this is warm water, but it ain't here in the Southeast.

Because of all of the family activities our time in the water was very limited. Still, we did okay. We found brook silversides, FW shrimp, assorted sunfish (mostly dollars and bluespotted, I think), 1 tiny channel cat, 1 Everglades pygmy sunfish, swamp darters, and coastal shiners. We were solidly in range for our targeted flagfish, but we failed to find any on this day.

The following morning we started back toward GA, intending to hook up with Doug Dame (Interlachen, FL) along the way. Unfortunately, our friend had to work that day, so we stopped to explore on our own just north of Ocala at a place called Orange Creek, on Co. Highway 115. Ironically, we were only 12 miles from Doug's house, but we didn't find that out until we got home. Otherwise, I would have left some fish in his mailbox. This stream is very slow-moving, bordering on swampy conditions. The bottom was a mixture of sand and mud, with a heavy tannin stain in the water. Mud along the banks was extremely treacherous in places. However, much of the bank was anchored with wonderful cypress knees. What a beautiful area! I had some reservations about gators, although I saw no signs of any, because of the depth of the dark pools and moderate to heavy vegetation...too many hiding places. If any were around, I guess the cooler weather kept them subdued. We did more dipnetting than seining there to allow us to watch for any reptile visitors. This was my first experience using a "Perfect Dipnet" from Jonah's Aquarium. They are, in fact, perfect! Nice design, Mark.

Again, were we limited in our collecting time, having left my wife in Ocala for a shopping rampage while we pursued the fish. We caught the same mix of sunfish plus one warmouth, FW shrimp, swamp darters, sailfin shiners (beautiful fish!), 2 golden topminnows, scads (herds?...schools?...packs?) of unwanted gambusia, and some ironcolor shiners. I thought I had some taillight shiners, but I may have been mistaken (many thanks to Dave Neely for the ID help). Some of them are still so small, it's hard to tell. I'll let 'em grow for awhile and see if I get lucky.

We were in the water only about an hour, and I know that we barely touched all that must be there. Our friend Doug visited the same location last week and also found pirate perch, brown darters, and an Okefenokee pygmy sunfish. This was my first collecting trip in FL. I am very impressed. If I couldn't live in GA, I guess I'd just have to go there!

Already, there are rumblings for spring collecting trips. A surprising number of people are talking about an Okefenokee outing. If any of you have an interest in hitting that area, contact me off list. I'll try to coordinate all of the input and come up with something that works for the majority of those who wish to go swamping.

**Click the small image to display a larger one**


This is Little Manatee River looking upstream.


Little Manatee River looking downstream.

My stepson, Jonathan Massie.

Coastal shiner


Swamp darter

Freshwater shrimp

Everglades pygmy sunfish


Orange Creek, near Ocala, FL.

Orange Creek

Sailfin shiner

Ironcolor shiner

Golden topminnow

All The Best,

Steven A. Ellis